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Resiliency keeps Lenz Arts tradition alive after fire (April 8, 2007)
JONDI GUMZ - Sentinel staff writer

Five years after a fire caused about $85,000 in damages at Lenz Arts, the owners still occasionally smell smoke.

They didn't have fire insurance, but they turned a lemon of a situation into lemonade, upgrading the interior of their art supply store, and expanding their canvas selection sixfold.

Andrew and new canvas rack
In 2002, Andrew leans against the new canvas rack that stands where we had our graphics and drafting materials prior to the fire. Notice that the new carpet still isn't completely installed, but the store had probably been back open a month by this point.
[Unpublished photo taken by Lenz Arts staff]

"Since we had to move a lot of stuff, it was a great opportunity to get things done," said Andrew Lenz Jr., 39, vice president of the family-owned business on River Street.

He hasn't forgotten how the fire singed the hair off his arm.

There was no debate about the task of rebuilding.

"We enjoy what we do," Lenz said. "It was full steam ahead"

Although the fire was destructive, he said sales were down more when River Street was torn up for improvements, detouring customers. He declined to give sales figures.

His parents, two artists who founded the business in 1968, built up such loyalty among customers that they volunteered to help with the cleanup.

The 10,000-square-foot store, which has been on River Street since 1972, draws artists from as far away as King City and San Francisco. Picture frame mouldings are stored in a 2,000-square-foot warehouse.

"They have everything," said Ray Newkirk, a partner in Pacific Biodiesel, who found the paintbrush he needed.

Los Gatos resident Mary Skillicorn, looking for supplies for a watercoloring trip to the Channel Islands, said the store's staff is "always helpful"

One example: As a caller waited for a sales staffer to return with information, another staffer picked up to offer assistance.

The neighborhood near the store is changing, with two residential condominiums under construction in what used to be an industrial area.
The Lenz Arts building, about 70 years old, was once the home to the El Dorado Meat Co. The series of freezer rooms are now packed with paints, pastels and papers.

Co-founder Andy Lenz explained that the quantity of paper, turpentine paint thinner [which is flammable], the age of the building, and the lack of sprinklers all made the cost of fire insurance prohibitive.

"They wanted $40,000, and that was 15 years ago," he said.
He figured in 10 years, he'd have enough money to rebuild.

Rather than pay for insurance, he set aside a cash reserve, drawing on it to keep employees working during the cleanup.

Andy loads stretcher bars
Andy Lenz loads odd-inch stretcher bars into their display after the hole in our floor was repaired.
[Unpublished photo taken by Lenz Arts staff]

The flames shot outside the exterior wall, browning the store's mural on North Pacific Avenue, but the damage was mostly confined to one room rather than taking down the entire structure.

Redwood insulation in the floor smoldered, slowing the fire's progress.
Santa Cruz contractor Peter Putt brought in a crew wearing protective suits, respirators and goggles to scrape charcoal off the redwood beams 18 inches thick. Andrew Lenz joined them, crawling under the building, an experience that left him somewhat claustrophobic.

Then came new sheetrock, paint, and carpet.

Ben installs carpet
Staff member Ben (now moved away and married with kids) installs new carpet after our fire.
[Unpublished photo taken by Lenz Arts staff]

The store reopened after a 12-day shutdown. It took nine months for the smoke smell to dissipate, and about a year before everything seemed normal.

The Fire Department investigation determined the origin of the fire was at a gas meter.

The Lenz family filed a claim in 2005 against PG&E, which denied it.
They still don't have fire insurance.

They are expecting to paint the store's exterior, participating in the city Redevelopment Agency's facade improvement program.

"We're trying to figure out what color," said Lenz, who would like to incorporate purple and teal, the store's colors, somehow. "I have one idea; my parents have another"

At 66, Andy Lenz works half-time. He isn't ready to retire. He loves to draw, revealing that he sketches while sitting at traffic lights, demonstrating his technique on matboard the size of a postcard.

His son, a UC Santa Cruz computer science graduate, is happy with his decision to leave cubicle life and work in the store where he grew up.
"I realized I missed the interaction with people," he explained.

He had fun putting together the store's April 1 advertising flier, with a photo of a mock crime scene and a headline "Brush With Disaster"

And he's grooming a third generation, showing his two children, ages 10 and 8, where they can help out.

If disaster strikes

In case of a fire, flood or earthquake, can your business rebound from damages? The Insurance Information Network of California suggests that businessowners develop a four-point plan for surviving a disaster:

• Minimize risk. Train employees about fire safety, make sure fire extinguishers work, locate in a fire-resistive building.
• Develop a recovery plan; keep duplicate records of accounts receivables, inventory and equipment; find alternative facilities, equipment and supplies; locate qualified contractors; set up an emergency response plan and train employees to carry it out; compile a list of important phone numbers and addresses; decide how to inform customers.
• Review your insurance; ask about current replacement prices, limitations and whether recent improvements are covered. Consider business interruption and extra-expense insurance policies. Extra-expense insurance reimburses you for what you spend beyond normal operating expenses to avoid having to shut down.
• Review your recovery plan on a regular basis.

Are you prepared?
A recovery plan can help businesses cope with a disaster. The Institute for Business & Home Safety, a nonprofit based in Tampa, suggests business owners consider these questions:
1. Could your business operations be interrupted by a natural or human-caused disaster?
2. What parts of your business need to be operational as soon as possible following a disaster and how would you resume?
3. Do you and your employees know what to do to remain safe until help arrives?
4. Could you communicate with your employees if a disaster happened during or after work hours?
5. Can your building withstand a natural disaster? Are your contents and inventory protected?
6. Are your vital records protected?
7. Are you prepared to stay open if your suppliers cannot deliver, your markets are inaccessible, or water, sewer, electricity, transportation are unavailable?
8. Do you have plans to stay open even if you cannot stay in or reach your place of business?
9. Have you worked with your community, public officials and other businesses on disaster preparedness?
10. Have you asked an insurance professional if your insurance coverage is adequate to help you get back in business?

Lenz Arts

Arts supplies, custom picture framing, monthly arts demonstrations (next one is 1-3 p.m. on April 28, on Winsor & Newton watercolors with Steve Gallisdorfer and Andy Lenz)

LOCATION: 142 River St., Santa Cruz.
OWNED BY: Andy, Cynthia and Andrew Lenz.
INFORMATION: 423-1935 or www.lenzarts.com

[Santa Cruz Sentinel article republished by permission.]